Understanding, Identifying and Building Distinctive Brand Assets

March 15, 2010

This post is part of a continuing series of guest posts. Jenni Romaniuk is an Associate Research Professor of Brand Equity, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia.

***********************************************

This post is a summary of an Ehrenberg-Bass Institute corporate member report written in conjunction with Nicole Hartnett, Research Associate at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

Distinctive assets are non brand-name elements that are able to evoke the brand in the memory of consumers.   Some of the most famous examples include the Nike ‘swoosh’, the Aflac duck and Mastercard’s priceless advertising.  All of these elements are able to represent their brand name without needing any other prompting.

Aflac Duck - Distinctive Brand Asset

Many creative elements have the potential to become distinctive assets including: logos, slogans, colors, shapes, typefaces or fonts, characters, celebrities, jingles and/or music, sounds, advertising style, tastes, textures and scents.

However merely using one of the elements described above as part of your brand identity does not necessarily mean it is an ‘asset’ for your brand. For an element to be an asset, it needs to meet two criteria:

Uniqueness To what degree is your brand only linked to the element? When consumers link multiple brands to an element, brand confusion ensues. Ideally, marketers want to develop brand assets that are unique in their category.

PrevalenceHow many consumers link your brand to the distinctive element? The more consumers that are able to identify your brand based on the asset, the stronger and more valuable the distinctive asset becomes.

The Nike Swoosh Is Prevalent and Unique

Simply put, distinctive assets are more creative alternatives to directly showing a brand name, and they help create a larger brand footprint when elements are used in conjunction with the brand. Marketers can use non-word elements such as color, visual images, and sound to provide a multi-layered process for entry into consumer memory. On the consumer end, brand assets simplify brand identification outside of the advertising context, for example on-shelf or as a retail outlet.

How does an element become a distinctive asset?

To develop a distinctive asset, marketers need to make a commitment to consistent co-presentation of the element and the brand name across all consumer touch-points. Then, consumers must learn to associate the element with the brand.

Whether a brand has already developed distinctive assets or is embarking on creating elements, the main question marketers need to answer is: “Do consumers recognize my brand?” Throughout this process, keep in mind that for an element to be a distinctive asset it must evoke the brand, without prompting, for close to 100% of consumers. Only then can the distinctive asset be considered strong enough as a unique brand identifier. Ultimately, distinctive assets can replace the brand name in marketing initiatives.

I have created the Distinctive Asset Grid to enable marketers to classify their brand’s distinctive elements.  The grid is divided into four broad quadrants, which each represent the current state and future potential of a distinctive element.

If an element falls in the quadrant labeled …

Use: It is a strong distinctive element that evokes the brand from memory for the vast majority of consumers. Distinctive assets that fall in the “Use” quadrant are highly differentiated from those of competitive brands. Therefore, assets in this quadrant can be used to replace the brand name in advertising.

Invest: The element has unharnessed potential: it meets the most important criteria and it is highly unique to the brand.  However, not many people are aware of the asset (low prevalence) which restricts its ability to be used in place of the brand name. To further cement the element, it should be co-presented with the brand name.

Avoid: If the asset falls in the “Avoid” quadrant, marketers should be wary of using the element as an alternative to the brand name. Otherwise, the element may bring competitors to mind for consumers.

Ignore: An element in this quadrant is best unused in its present state. The exceptions are elements that are at the beginning of their development, as the majority of new elements have low prevalence and uniqueness. However, if an element’s uniqueness and prevalence have not developed after receiving proper marketing support, then the asset should be reconsidered.

Finally, some FAQ:

1.  Are there any drawbacks in using distinctive assets for brand identification?

While distinctive assets represent some opportunities, they also present some risks.  If you use the brand name to identify the brand in advertising, all who notice the brand name will know that it is that brand that is advertising.  However, if you only use a distinctive asset to identify the brand, and it is not 100% unique and prevalent, there will be some people who see the distinctive asset but don’t think of the brand name.  These are wasted exposures.

2. Do distinctive assets have to have a meaning for consumers beyond the brand name? (or is it better if they do?)

There is good reason to be cautious about selecting elements with strong meaning to develop as distinctive assets.  Firstly, the strong meaning will hamper the brand’s ability to attach the brand name to the distinctive asset.  This meaning will be evoked in consumer memory when the element is presented, which will then dominate and interfere with the development of links to the brand name.  Secondly, you can’t control the consistency of this past meaning.  Finally, what if the core meaning of the brand changes over time in response to consumer or market trends?  The distinctive asset will also need to change, negating the value of past investments.

*****************************************************

For more information on this research, contact Jenni: Jenni@MarketingScience.info

Jenni Romaniuk’s research interests are Brand Equity Metrics, Brand Salience, Distinctive Brand Assets, Brand Name Execution, Advertising Effectiveness and the influence of Word of Mouth on consumer behaviour, particularly in Television program viewing.  Her work has been published in European Journal of Marketing, Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of Business Research and Journal of Marketing Management.  Jenni is also past editor of Journal of Empirical Generalisations in Marketing Science (JEMS): www.empgens.com

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute is a world-class research institute that delivers real scientific knowledge and dramatic discoveries to corporations all over the word including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Turner Broadcasting. To learn more about the Institute visit www.MarketingScience.info

Follow Randall Beard on Twitter

Get free updates of Randall Beard’s Blog by e-mail

Get free updates of Randall Beard’s Blog by RSS reader


Build Your Brand with Content Marketing

July 13, 2009

Building your brand with content Marketing is becoming increasingly important. In the good old days before the web and social media, it was enough to simply communicate your brand’s value proposition in a highly memorable and convincing manner and watch the sales roll in. No more. Relevant content can be an approach to engage your customers and smartly differentiate your brand. In an earlier post “Publishing — The Future of Marketing?,” I described why the importance of content marketing is increasing. And Joe Pulizzi of Junta 42, in his excellent post “The Decline of Advertising and Rise of Content Spending,” explains more about the rising tide of content in the future.

Subway -- Smartly Using Content Marketing

Subway -- Smartly Using Content Marketing

Subway has gotten a lot of attention recently for their “fresh and healthy” positioning and impactful $5 foot long subs campaign. But equally deserving in my opinion is how they’re using Content Marketing in their Subway Kids program. This program has taken the core Subway value proposition — “fresh and healthy” — and extended it to kids. Subway Kids adheres to a couple of basic tenets that are important to good Content Marketing.

First, they’re clear about their target(s). The quick serve category serves two masters — parents and kids. And Subway Kids markets effectively to both. Check out the recent Subway Kids TV commercial showing creative kids outdoor games and see if you, as a parent, can resist feeling good about the Subway brand and what they’re trying to do for kids.

Second, Subway Kids stays true to the “fresh and healthy” core value proposition of the parent brand. Many brands line extend into secondary benefits or segments and conveniently forget the core focus of the brand or fail to reinforce it sufficiently. Not so with Subway Kids.

Subway Kids -- Using Marketing Content to Extend & Deepen the Brand

Subway Kids -- Using Marketing Content to Extend & Deepen the Brand

4 Smart Ways Subway Kids is Using Content Marketing

Here’s four smart ways Subway Kids is using content to engage their customers and deepen the relationship — all of which support “fresh and healthy.”

  1. Suggest Activities — Subway Kids “Get Your Family In Motion” adds relevant and meaningful content about activities that families can do together — which are healthy and active. All of the activities  surround and deepen the “fresh and healthy” positioning.
  2. Explore Choices — The “Meet the Subway Kids” program provides the opportunity for kids to choose a Subway Kids friend on-line to hang out with. They can then follow the kid and see how they’re feeling, what decisions they make, and how this relates to their food choices–another route into the fresh and healthy value proposition.
  3. Engage Schools — Subway Kids “Random Acts of Fitness” program  extends their core benefit to schools with calendars, stickers, educational programs, etc. designed to help teachers and parents reinforce healthy and active behaviors.
  4. Educate and Inform Parents — Subway Kids offers a convenient widget which provides parents with daily nutition tips and activity suggestions .

What’s Right About Subway Kids Marketing

The “red thread” throughout the entire Subway Kids proposition is easy to see and follow — healthy and active kids. And the Kids programs all relate directly to and are mutually supportive of this theme. Now, remember the Subway core value proposition — fresh and healthy ? It’s obvious how the Subway Kids “healthy and active” proposition surrounds,  enhances and deepens the core “fresh and healthy” Subway value proposition. My only complaint is that it’s a bit difficult to find Subway Kids on their website.

Is it working ? Well, I don’t have access to Subway sales vs. target, but at least one recent book, “Brand Bubble,” by Gerzema and Lebar, identifies Subway as one of the few brands that are growing both brand market value and consumer brand equity ratings. What’s not to like about a brand that delivers compelling, relevant content that’s supportive of their core brand promise and “good for you” food ?

Follow Randall Beard on Twitter   

Get free updates of Randall Beard’s Blog by e-mail   

Get free updates of Randall Beard’s Blog by RSS reader


How Authentic Is Your Brand ?

June 23, 2009

Authenticity is a term we hear bandied about a lot these days, but it’s one that you need to pay particular attention to. In a recent post “What Marketers Can Learn From The Obama Campaign — Part 2,” I talked about the importance of authenticity in the Obama campaign. Authentic means honest, real and not manufactured–adhering to facts and supported by experience. And it’s increasing in importance because of several key factors.

What’s Driving The Need for Authenticity ?

  1. Crisis — The economic crisis revealed that things aren’t exactly what they seemed. Or, as Warren Buffet puts it: “when the tide goes out, you find out who’s wearing bathing suits.”
  2. Digital — The web has democratized information and consumer sharing. Brands are increasingly unable to hide as consumers uncover facts, inconvenient truths and rapidly share information. Advergirl.com has an excellent post on this at: “Social Media Demands Authentic Brands.
  3. Marketing Excess — An awful lot of Marketing feels like used car sales. Companies exaggerate their product benefits and often avoid the reality of their product experience. Marketers are partly responsible for consumers becoming jaded and less trustworthy of their messages.

Financial services marketing is a case in point. Battered by the economic crisis, subject to negative sentiment across the web, and Marketing that tells people to trust and be confident. In the land of happy, content, retired people walking on the beach and playing with grandchildren, few brands stand out as being different — and authentic.

Charles Schwab — An Authentic Brand

One brand that does is Charles Schwab. No doubt you’ve seen the unusual looking Schwab ads:

The Charles Schwab Brand -- An Authentic Marketing Message

The Charles Schwab Brand -- An Authentic Marketing Message

The ads have the air of authenticity. Why ? Because the Schwab brand:

  • Is irreverent– willing to say what other brands would rather not have you hear.
  • Shows real people saying what they think– and connecting with consumers real world experience.
  • Encourages a conversation: “talk to Chuck.” How can a brand be authentic without conversation ?

Becky Saeger, Head of Marketing at Charles Schwab notes:

“One of the most important and challenging things financial services companies are faced with today is rebuilding the trust of consumers. This principle of authenticity is central to rebuilding trust and conveying that you are trustworthy: You cannot TELL people to trust you, or even convince them to by telling them why they should. Every manifestation of your brand–from communications to products to human or web interactions–needs to be true to the promises of the brand, and deliver the actions that are proof of those promises and collectively signal trustworthiness. The only way I know to do that is for your brand and your marketing, and therefore all of the above, to be grounded in the authentic purpose and values of your company. Yes, this is a huge and potentially lofty goal, maybe even more an aspiration. But how else can you trust that your brand–buffeted about in the wild and crazy, social, digital, consumer-in-control world we live in–will rise above the fray and earn the trust of those very savvy and often disappointed consumers?”

Authenticity and Creativity

A final point. Authentic doesn’t equal boring. The Schwab campaign is very differentiated in the financial services space. The use of rotoscope animation enables the campaign to both feel authentic and look differentiated at the same time. A real creative hat trick and one that other Marketers could learn from.

So how does your brand rate on the authenticity scale ?

Get free blog e-mail updates by clicking here


The Responsible Way to Improve Your Marketing

June 1, 2009

What’s a small player to do when facing behemoths in a heavily marketed category ? How do you stake out a credible position when the category benefit is already “owned” by the big guys ? One approach is to discover and exploit a unique and compelling consumer insight.

Insurance is a dull category that yearns for creative Marketing–hence the Cavemen, Ducks, Lizards, NBA stars, etc. Everyone knows the category benefit (security) and each firm has a different way of expressing it. There’s Allstate’s advertising “You’re in good hands with Allstate;”  and of course, State Farm is still mining their decades old advertising slogan “Like a good neighbour, State Farm is there;”   etc.  And, of course, there’s AFLAC and GEICO. In the land of insurance behemoths, what’s a small player to do ?

Liberty Mutual Print Advertising -- Using A Great Insight

Liberty Mutual Print Advertising -- Using A Great Insight

How about discover and exploit a compelling consumer insight ? That’s exactly what Liberty Mutual has done with the “responsibility” insight. Like most great insights, it’s so simple that when you hear it, you think: “I knew that.” In fact, as Jack Trout points out in his book “In Search of the Obvious,” good ideas are simple, understandable, easy to explain, and intuitive. The insight:  most consumers think insurance companies frequently don’t do the right thing. Everyone has either a firsthand experience or a story from a friend or family member of an insurance company doing the wrong thing.

In my case, it was 1976 and I was driving my parents Volkswagen way too fast when the road changed from pavement to gravel. I fearlessly tried to negotiate a sharp turn at 60 mph., but the car skidded sideways and rolled over multiple times onto a public golf course.  Some golfers on the 9th hole rescued me from the car, where I was hanging upside down  in the shoulder harness — unhurt.  In this case,  State Farm did the wrong thing by cancelling my parents insurance — after 20+ years of family accident free driving !

Liberty Mutual stakes out the bold claim that it’s the insurance company that does the responsible thing — and by inference, that others may be less so.  My favorite Liberty Mutual ad  focuses on a parent doing the right thing after school with the kids.

And not only have they used this insight in their ads, they’ve now exploited it as THE marketing idea with the “Responsibility Project.”  Liberty Mutual has extended beyond ads into social media, as their web site invites consumers to share their stories of people doing the right thing and behaving in a responsible way–a great way to engage consumers and reinforce their brand benefit in the process.

Paul Alexander, head of marketing for Liberty Mutual, says: 

In a category where you find geckos, cavemen, hot dogs without a bun, and Flo taking you down the “Dave” isle, we believe there is room for a brand to have a serious conversation about responsibility with it’s consumers and customers.  More importantly, we do not want to come across as preachy or finger-wagging.  Rather, we want to encourage a conversation, especially around issues where there is more than one right answer.

So what’s the lesson here ? When you can’t easily differentiate based on your benefit, consider the possibility of identifying and leveraging a unique consumer insight. Developing great consumer insights is hard work. There are  several excellent books on the topic, including “Hitting the Sweet Spot: How Consumer Insights Can Inspire Better Marketing and Advertising.”

The most important learning here is to relentlessly focus on understanding your consumer and developing great insights. It’s the responsible thing to do, and in the best cases, yields better marketing plans and even better business results.